The fabulous day of January the 17th began in the wee hours of the a.m., for the now vastly cultured Elon students. While some chose the safety of the hotel from the extreme culture shock in Vietnam, others opted to hit the insanely crowded streets of Hanoi and check out the nightlife. The city proved to be our first real run in with problems regarding the language barrier as at the end of the night cabs were no help for a ride home. However, some students were lucky enough to run into a fellow American at 3 in the morning who offered a lift home on her motorbike. The students were very appreciative of her gesture and had no hard feelings with regards to a minor accident half way through the ride.
The next morning the students had an early morning wake up call to take a 4 hour trip to start our unforgettable experience at Halong Bay. For those that could stay awake on the bus ride, this was unforgettable in itself. If you think NYC traffic is crazy, you haven’t been to Vietnam. With the estimated 35 million motor bikes in the country (not to mention a family of 5 crammed on the small vehicle), traffic lights and rules are nonexistent. With a blowing horn every 2 seconds or gridlocks every 300 yards, traveling even a mile can be a life threatening adventure.
Upon our arrival to Halong Bay, we boarded one of our 3 cruising vessels while enjoying a local cuisine lunch and beautiful deck-top views. We can show you as many pictures as you’d like, but I think it’s safe to say as little pictures as we took could never do justice to the unbelievable feeling of Halong Bay’s physical presence. After lunch, we checked into our houseboat staterooms and the more adventurous of the students got the opportunity to take a few hours exploring the bay’s magnificence from a different perspective, through kayaking. This mesmerizing experience multiplied the wow-factor of the tour through this city of floating mountains. Some students even decided to take a kayak adventure to our distant anchoring area headed by our passionate and fun-loving tour guide “T”.
Pacific Ocean Grocery Stores
After a short cruise and dip in the cool water, the boats docked up alongside each other for dinner and our nighttime extravaganza. We were able to enjoy the entire group in a social setting, rather than knowing each other only by where we sit on our everyday bus rides. Following the fun filled night, a few students embraced an early 7 am wakeup call with one last opportunity to kayak. A few handfuls of students were able to take in various exotic cave underpasses filled with “mischievous” monkeys and into a picturesque natural environment.
Following the amazing trip to Halong Bay, the hectic schedule of our travelers refused to stop there as we drove right back into Hanoi and continued with a short tour of the city. We got the opportunity to make two stops; one at the burial shrine for Ho Chi Minh and another at an ancient Confucius temple. We learned about the life and ideals of Ho Chi Minh, further understanding their love for the fallen leader. We were able to grasp the idea of a developing government, learning from the ever changing Vietnamese people
After the tour, most of the group was taken to a Water Puppet Show, a popular local activity native to Hanoi. While live authentic music played on stage, men and women maneuvered an assortment of puppets through water in front of an Asian themed staged. The show gave many of the students an insightful perspective of the music and culture of Vietnam.
To end the night most of the students perused the streets of Hanoi where they haggled for gifts and personal items. Speaking with the locals in the capital city of Vietnam was an interesting experience for all. On one specific incident, some of the students spoke with a 14 year old girl who was selling shoes at one of the vastly abundant street shops. Because the store wasn’t capable of providing any of the shoe sizes necessary to fit the students, they proceeded to talk with the young girl about her vast educational goals. The extremely intelligent Vietnamese young girl was able to speak 7 different languages and talked about moving out of Vietnam to Singapore. She asked the students why we would come to such a dirty, heavily populated area and was shocked we’d choose to study abroad here. After coming to this part of the city I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all have a newfound appreciation of the life we’ve so luckily been given.
Post by John Palermo & Phil Manning
Photos courtesy of Ted Wetterau